HOUSTON - Renting someone's home for a vacation instead of staying in a pricey hotel is a huge travel trend right now. But vacation rentals can come with some risk.
Just ask Kathie Grealish. She's proud of a summer house she rents out with a beautiful view of the water. But she was shocked to get a call from a woman who thought she had a signed contract for a rental.
"She said our family is coming and we're looking into renting bicycles. I said, 'This name does not sound familiar,'" Grealish recalled.
Grealish lists her house on Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), a popular website. A scammer hacked into her email and posing as her, sent a forged contract. It listed a foreign bank and told the renter to send more than $3,000.
"That's just one of the tricks that criminals use to steal your money and ruin your vacation," said Tobie Stanger with Consumer Reports magazine.
Stanger said another ploy is to lure you with properties that are in foreclosure or don't even exist.
It's a problem that can hit far away and close to home.
"During the summer it is one of the most common scams that BBB sees," said Rachel Newman with the Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau said if you're tricked into paying a scammer, unfortunately it will be a vacation you'll never forget.
"Consumers can be out quite a bit of money and at the same time have nowhere to stay on their vacation," Newman said.
Consumer Reports said the key to avoid a scam is to do your homework before you make the deal.
Research the owner, check property records online to see if the person you're dealing with actually owns the home and pay by credit card or PayPal. Never wire money.
Consumer Reports also recommends using the website Flipkey if you want to rent a house or apartment. It conducts background checks on landlords and makes sure the properties are legitimate so you can avoid a vacation disaster.
You may also want to consider rental guarantee insurance. The vacation websites VRBO and Homeaway will sell you $10,000 worth of coverage for $39.
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